Black Moss Press’ New Book
Explores Windsor’s Forgotten History
Story by Michael Seguin
D.A. Lockhart opens Wënchikàneit Visions with a quote from Philip Levine’s “Winter Words”:
Once I slept beside a wide river whose currents pulled both night and day. I thought it began at the source of sweet water and took them through seven small seas to a great ocean tasting of salt and lives.”
An apt comparison, because Lockhart’s writing style is like a river itself. It swerves, trickles and flows with breathless clarity. His words and images are always in motion, carrying the reader along on an unforgettable journey with effortless grace.
Wënchikàneit Visions is a new collection of essays by D.A. Lockhart, a Windsor-born poet, author and publisher.
Although he was born in Chatham, Lockhart identifies Windsor has his hometown. A Turtle Clan member of the Moravian of the Thames First Nations, Lockhart obtained his degree in Indigenous Studies from Trent University. A self-described wanderer at heart, Lockhart spent many years travelling around the States, working odd jobs while living in Detroit, Montana and Indianapolis.
Lockhart is also the owner of Urban Farmhouse Press, a small literary press. “When I lived in Indianapolis and couldn’t find work, I started a small press,” Lockhart states. “We brought it with us [to Windsor]. It’s really a press that spans two borders. We do poetry, fiction and some chapbooks for science fiction when it hits us the right way.”
It was also during his time in Indianapolis that Lockhart first began writing. “I became a professional writer just before graduate school in Indiana,” Lockhart recalls. “I studied fiction and poetry under Catherine Bowman and Maura Stanton—two very well-known American poets. Tony Ardizzone also helped me out a lot.”
Lockhart returned home with his wife Emily in 2013. Around the same time, Lockhart began writing full-time after obtaining some grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.
Lockhart is the author of five poetry collections, which have been exclusively published by Canadian literary presses such as Brick Books, Mansfield Press and most significantly, Windsor’s Black Moss Press.
Wënchikàneit Visions was released by Black Moss Press, a local literary press founded by journalist Marty Gervais in 1969. The book itself was commissioned by Gervais as part of the publisher’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations. Fitting, considering the book’s themes of local history and forgotten stories. “Marty and I often have a lot of conversations about the history of Windsor,” Lockhart explains. “He’s a treasure trove of knowledge. He’s fascinated with the lost histories of Windsor. However, most of the writers he works with don’t go into the indigenous history. Whereas I will take a step back a little bit further.”
Wënchikàneit Visions may be Lockhart’s most ambitious achievement to date. The book is a collection of essays that explores the connection to place and history through the lens of absence, forgetfulness and abandonment. The pieces and collection as a whole turn to often overlooked physical spaces in the region around Windsor, and consider their central role in both the past and the future. “The book was more of an experiment for me,” Lockhart admits. “It’s what we would call a lyric essay—a mix between an essay and a poem. It has its roots in American writers like Ted Kruuzer.”
The collection is based on the Lenape Big House ceremony, with the Wënchikàneit referring to the male speaker of such traditions. The framing device, according to Lockhart, casts the entire collection of essays as a series of visions undertaken and shared by the speaker. “Let me sing of visions had in the places I have been blessed to walk through,” he writes. “Kishelëmùkònk allow these words to coax those west of our fires to return. That they shall come in song and in image, they shall come and speak of that which we have lost or willfully forgotten.”
What is perhaps most remarkable about Wënchikàneit Visions is Lockhart’s trademark writing style, and how it juxtaposes elements of prose and poetry.
Paragraphs of vivid prose are intercut with stretches of verse. Oftentimes, these asides appear as songs. “Typically the visions arise from the everyday experiences that happen throughout the course of a year,” Lockhart explains. “This book was primarily set in the winter and the fall. It follows the experiences I would have had over that time. All those experiences were created from those moments. The text switches between those extrapolative parts: the expository prose and the lyrics.”
Rather than being disruptive or indulgent, Lockhart masterfully weaves these two strands together into a braid. The result gives his writing a dream-like, almost ecstatic quality that rises and falls, ultimately granting the reader an intimate view of Windsor, Chatham and Detroit’s stories—past, present and future.
The effect is a startlingly vivid portrait of Windsor. “The book places indigeneity at the centre of contemporary Canadian existence,” Lockhart states. “So, if we look at Devil in the Woods, my previous book, it’s letter poems to famous Canadians about particular things. This operates in the same way. It showcases people taking a bus through town and discovering old pathways. It’s reinserting our cultural mythology back into the everyday experience.”
It’s a remarkable literary experience. An examination of the contemporary and the historical. An interrogation on place, time and space. A meditation on the mundane and mythical. “It functions as a strange homage to ceremony,” Lockhart clarifies. “But also to everyday existence.”
Lockhart will also be appearing alongside Marty Gervais and Laurence Hutchman at the 2019 By the River Reading Series on Wednesday, December 11th at Mackenzie Hall.
The event begins at 7pm. Books are available to be signed. Early in the collection, Lockhart states his intent to travel “pathways forgotten.” And in doing so, he delivers one of the most memorable literary experiences to come out of Southwestern Ontario. Wënchikàneit Visions is available at blackmosspress.com.
Great work, Daniel!